A few highlights from my recent trip to Beijng

Beijing!

My hubby had a conference.  And of course, I could not let him go by himself.  My language skills are rusty, but they’re better than his! He would need someone to help get a taxi (and explain where we’re going), order a meal, and shoo agressive street vendors.

Not that I really *wanted* to spend 2 weeks in the land of silk and dumplings….

Hah!  Even though I would miss out on two of the busiest weeks of the summer back home, a chance to go to China is not something that happens every day… or even every year.  The last time we were in China was 2006… and before that, I was there in 1983… a lot has changed and I wanted to see those changes firsthand!

First change: we stayed at a Holiday Inn Express. Even 6 years ago, American chain hotels were few and far between and always high-priced. This time round, it was the most cost-effective option. It was also extremely convenient since it was a short walk to the subway station and only 2km from the Conference Center.

Holiday Inn, Minzuyuan

This was our home away from home in Beijing this summer.

Second Change: Big mega-grocery stores. Next to our hotel was the Chinatown Shoppingtown Mall(although the Chinese characters said it was something people street), and in the mall was R-T Supermarket! They sold everything from magazines and school supplies to washing machines to computers to iPhones to sporting goods, shoes, ladies underwear, dishes, rice cookers, and FOOD! The selection and quality was amazing!  It totally blew the local Albertson’s in Lemon Grove out of the water in terms of freshness, variety and helpful associates.

Fruit and vegetables in the RT SHoppingtown

The fruit and vegetable department was truly astounding — both in variety and abundance. And everything was scrupulously clean.

Fish and crabs in grocery tank

You could pick your fish for dinner — or a crab — from the huge tank near the meat department — and they would kill, clean and wrap it for you. Doesn’t get much fresher than that!

RT SHoppingtown eggs

Customers could choose how many eggs they wanted and the size and grade. They all looked lovely.

Third change: the prevelance of English words.  Even off the Olympic path, English words popped up as headings in magazines, on signs in the grocery store and on propaganda posters.

poster in subway

This did not need to have English on it at all, but it does. And it’s plastered all over Beijing — in subway stations, on bridges, in the mall….

It was interesting to see the changes.  Some are excellent — such as the obvious rise of relative wealth.  Most people had iPhones or some other smartphone and there were a lot of laptops and iPads in use on the subways. The supermarkets are well-stocked and it seems obvious that nearly everyone has a refrigerator and a stove. In 1983, most people bought food every day because refrigerators were only for a priviledged few. Stoves were often a bunsen-type burner and a wok.

One of my friends in 1983 lived in an apartment building where the apartments shared a dormitory-style bathroom on their floor; and hot water was limited to 2 hours per day: and you could only drink boiled water so everyone had thermoses of hot water. Nowadays, the water still isn’t potable (you have to drink bottled water, which is cheap and readily available), but city residents have unlimited hot water in their own personal bathrooms — what a HUGE change. I cannot even begin to fathom the full impact of an entire nation (or at least a large segement of the population) acquiring bathroom privacy and freedom of showers. I just know that I deeply appreciate a private bathroom and hot water on demand.

And yes, most public toilets were not sit-down toilets (although many places such as the Temple of Heaven had a choice of toilet-styles). Public toilets were plentiful and for the most part, clean. And they were free. BYO paper, but once I knew you had to carry tissues with you everywhere, it wasn’t a problem at all.

public toilet

A typical public toilet. Private stalls and communal wash areas. BYO paper.

 

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